|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #18 - "Ticket to Writhe"
"Back So Soon?"
by Jon Andersen
"He sends you something that barely qualifies as a letter, and you just up and leave?"
The man with the piece of Post-It Note yellow paper clenched in his hand is perhaps a little past forty years old, as humans measure time. Deep hazel eyes, usually described by others as kindly, hold a look of outraged bewilderment that matches the one upon the lean features of his face. His normally shaggy blonde hair is still wet from the pool he stands at the edge of.
The woman with the car keys clenched in one fist and the rucksack slung over the other shoulder looks to be in her late 30s, as humans measure time. Intensely amber eyes, usually described by others as knowing, hold a look of sad resignation that matches the one upon the androgenous features of her face. Her autumn red hair is mostly hidden beneath his cowboy hat taken from the pile of clothes she stands next to on the pool decking.
"Does he have such a great hold over you?" the man asks, approaching her. "Is his power so great he can just snap his fingers and make you give up everything?"
The woman reaches out to him, caresses the damp skin of his face. "He helped make me who I am," she answers. "We owe each other so much that if he needs me, I /have/ to help him. He'd do the same."
His lips brush against the palm of her hand, sending a tiny little shiver running through her. "If you had to choose be-"
"Ray, don't," she whispers, holding that moment until it can be held no longer. \\Please let him cope with this.\\
"Don't what, River?" Ray asks petulantly, moving away from her. "Look, just go!"
"Ray, don't be such a jerk!" River snaps at him, the hand holding the keys clenching even tighter. "It's not like we're going to disappear into eternity together."
"Bullshit!" Ray shouts back. "You left your family behind for him in the first place." He looks at her accusingly. "You're blowing me off now. What's to stop you running off with him again?"
River sighs. She's been dreading this reaction ever since the letter arrived. "Ray, I /love/ you. But you are /such/ a /child/ sometimes!"
"And he isn't of course!"
"Fuck this, Ray. And fuck you."
"And him," he sneers spitefully.
"That was over the line!" She advances towards him, taking advantage of her extra inch in height. "It was you I married, remember?"
"Could've fooled m- Woaahh!!"
The splash as she pushes her husband backwards into the pool is guiltily satisfying. And the last thing she wishes she'd done.
\\Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!\\ she curses silently, storming back into the house, the door out to the pool slamming shut behind her. \\I can't believe I've spent this long with such an uptight jerk!\\
The door into the garage slams against its stops when she opens it, so violent are her emotions. Throwing her bag into the passenger seat, River punches the big smiley-faced yellow button that opens the external door. In the distance, she can hear Ray yelling her name and quite a few things that aren't.
The syrupy pale-red sunlight of the afternoon crawls into the non-descript cement greyness of the garage as the door retracts into the roof. It reflects dully off the matte green paint of the landcruiser that she and Ray had received as a wedding present. She remembers the road trips the two of them had taken in it, the romantic camping expeditions, the other things...
Never before has she travelled the distance she will have to in it alone.
The turbine starts with a reassuring growl as she gets in and locks the door. Brightly flashing telltales and indicators inform her that everything - everything except herself, perhaps - is ready to go. For one final moment, she looks back into the house and sees Ray running towards her. The expression on his face isn't happiness to see her where she is, or even an understanding of why she /has/ to do this.
Her velocity is so great that she becomes airborne at the top of the exit ramp, landing on the red soil with a jolt, one that the heavy duty suspension almost compensates for. It's a speed she doesn't diminish as, in the rear vision monitor, the homestead recedes into the darkening horizon.
* * *
With the AI dormant, there's nobody to comment on the tears trickling down her cheeks.
"Commands accepted," the AI burbles in its tinny little-robot voice. "I will initiate command sequence upon your departure from this vehicle."
"Good boy," River smiles fondly, patting the vocoder grill the way one might a small child who has done well. Giving the MiG humididor fastened into the driver's chair a final check, she picks up the rucksack from between her feet and slips out of the landcruiser, her air-cushioned boots making a slight exhalation of sound as they compress beneath the suddenapplication of downward velocity.
Closing the door, River steps back as the landcruiser's turbine revs into life. The yellow beams of the laser rangefinders flare into existence with a slight whine no human could possibly hear, creating a skirt of light around the storey-high vehicle. With a toot of the air horn, the sound attenuated a little by the thinness of the atmosphere, the AI backs out of its dock, beginning its return to the homestead.
"I hope you like the flowers, Ray," she mutters to herself, watching the vaguely bug shaped vehicle slowly dwindle through the open doors of the vehicle dock. For a while after she looses sight of it, she just stands there, taking a lingering bask in the comparative lightness of Martian gravity compared to Earth's.
Flexing the pantherish musculature of her entire body, she turns away from the vista and passes through the plate steel blankness of the airlock.
The artificial gravity becomes noticeably heavier the further she goes down the entrance ramp, and finds herself stopping every few metres as her body adapts. It's a process designed to acclimate long term Martian residents, and their native offspring, to the heavier gravity wells of the other planets. Before, when everything had been underground it hadn't been that much of a problem. But now that Mars has been terraformed enough to permit surface occupation, prolonged exposure to the reduced gravity is starting to have an unmistakable physiological effect.
It takes about ten minutes for River to make it down the hundred or so metres of the tunnel, something the designers had taken into account by placing padded couches along its entire length. When the doors open at the other end, the hustle and bustle of Olympus Mons West crashes over her with the alacrity of an unobserved wave at the beach. Composing herself, she plunges in.
\\Damn it Ray,\\ she thinks darkly, making her way towards the food hall that sits on the periphery of the Transit station proper. \\You should be here seeing me off, wishing me Gods speed.\\
The Kwik-Kurry stall attracts her out of old habit and old memories of life back home. She orders a megabucket of assorted dishes and waves away the relieved looking serving hand when he takes 32 seconds to serve it all up. Sliding a bottle of milk into the pocket of her chaotically multi-coloured coat, she tilts back her hat and makes her way back towards the station.
NEXT TRAIN: 2 MINUTES the hologram declares in neon red as she sits down on one of the benches. A woman on the opposite platform is reading a newspaper with the headline 'First Contact Made With Arcturus' in big letters, with a picture of a smiling Japanese woman beneath the word 'First'. Beneath that is an image of something that looks like a puffer fish with human eyes and small tentacles.
* * *
\\Always disliked those little vermin,\\ she thinks as she chews on apiece of curried goat in a tantalising sauce she can't remember ever tasting before now. \\There'll be trouble. Bet on it.\\
The sounds of sex - the interrupted pantings and groans and orgasmic cries, the movement of flesh against flesh - fill the room, and there are just under two hundred people moving sweatily in the dark to them.
The sampling of these things had been started decades ago. After that initial surge of interest, it had quickly become at first passé, then just bad taste, before finally being 'forgotten'. But the notion of taste, as with any fashion - any obsession favoured by humans - has yet again turned full circle. So, once more, the young people of the city dance to the primal sounds of wild sex and techno-tribal music, pressed close together beneath flickering strobes and randomly tracking spotlights, high on their drugs and their music and each other.
Dressed in the silver and bronze catsuit Ray had given her two birthdays ago, River moves amongst the dancers towards the bar, enjoying the physicality and the intensity of the experience. She feels the temptation to just stay and dance, to become a part of the hedonistic gestalt being created by the myriad influences she can see and feel interacting with the crowd and with each other.
But the strength of his presence, even after this long, draws her onwards.
Basalt steps, covered with wrought iron grills to prevent people from plunging into the crowd, lead up from the dance floor to the bar a floor above. Like the rest of the building, and many of those in the city beyond, it is flavoured ornamental gothic, the black wire-mesh tables with their inlaid luminescent patterns of chill blue providing a technological edge.
A slab of solid obsidian polished to a mirror finish comprises the actual bar itself, inlaid with the same luminescent substance as the tables; at the point between inebriation and stupor, people have sworn they've seen the patterns alter into obscene tableaux. Cleverly arranged lighting casts erotically sinister shadows across the barstaff in their tight fitting black and red uniforms and the chaotically coloured display of liquids and shatterproof glasses arranged around them.
"What can I get you?" a barman asks after she signals for his blue-eyed attention.
"Milk," she answers with an impish smile, a smile that grows bigger at the look of surprise on his rugged features. They're features that look like they've seen far more of life than what's visible from behind a bar.
"Milk?" he asks, then shrugs. "Whatever floats your boat." He turns to get something out of the freezer unit standing on the floor behind him. There's any number of beverages visible through the glass in the doors; the milk is just visible at the very back.
She notices the outline of a gun beneath the back of his shirt, tucked into the waistband of his jeans. The average human would never have noticed the shape of it, visible only as his waistcoat rides up that little bit when he bends.
River sighs as she reaches the conclusion that she's going to have to stop being one.
Taking the proffered glass, she dips her credstick into the register before turning away to survey the dance hall from a different angle. From where she stands, River can see the musicians occupying the raised dais at the other end of the building, separated from the masses by more wrought iron, speaker stacks carefully arranged to ensure no one misses out on the full effect of the music. Tonight it is a group of three, surrounded by synthesizers and mixing desks as they summon music that will never be heard in exactly the same way again, exhorting the dancers to greater exertions.
Sipping her drink, she tries to scan the crowd for familiar faces. She can feel him, feel his presence and the subtle way the world reacts to him. And he should certainly be able to tell that she is here, having come so far in answer to his terse request: 'I need you. The Sepulchre. Please. 'Even without the actual message in her hands, there is a feeling of distress to those words, as though they had been spat out into the ether with only the desperate hope that she would receive them.
\\Stop being melodramatic,\\ she scolds herself, and continues trying to spot his face. After almost ten minutes, she still fails to see him. Sighing worriedly, she finishes the last gulp of her drink, tilting her head back to get every drop; it was a good thing that the stuff she needs to maintain the integrity of her low-gravity evolved body tastes so damn good.
It's only then that River sees what she's been missing. Her hand convulses purely out of reaction, shattering the glass. She's aware of the pain of the shards cutting into her, of the slow warm trickle of blood more orange than red running down her bronze-tinged skin. "Oh Gods..."
Naked apart from a tattered green velvet loincloth, tied and /nailed/to the huge cross hanging above the dais, is the unconscious form of the Doctor.
To be continued...
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